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Volume :9 Issue : 36 1983      Add To Cart                                                                    Download

THE ARABIAN GULF AND ITS PEOPLE PRIOR TO 1930

Auther : By: Prof. Mohamed Riad

            This paper endeavors to reconstruct the prominent characteristics of the geography of the Arabs of the Gulf before the crisis of the pearl industry of the thirties of this country.

           The main theme is to ascertain the role of the region as a vital element in the geopolitics of trade in South-West Asia and the Middle East from early historic times to the western imperial rivalries of the 18th and 19th centuries.  The reactions of the Gulf Arabs to the changing political situations during the period is a matter worthy of further investigation.  But it is certain that the Arabs have positively responded to the European encroachment on their commerce and the freedom of their commercial fleet.

           The first section serves as an introduction to the geography of the Gulf region in a historical perspective. The Gulf is subdivided into two regions, namely: the Omani or upper region and the lower region.  Spatial factors are responsible for this division.  The scope of the present paper is more or less limited to the lower Gulf, or what is presumably known in European literature as the Persian Gulf.

           The historical survey is purposefully orientated to show the location factor of the Gulf between the Mesopotamian and the sub-Indian (Sindi) cultures and its effect on the rise and development of the Gulf early local cultures of Delmon (Bahrain), Failaka (Kuwait), Umm-en-Nar (U.A.E.) and Megan (Oman).  Modern scientific knowledge of the Gulf is mentioned here with due stress on the painstaking efforts of European geographers, travellers and political agents.  It is stated that the present knowledge of the Gulf and the formulation of its future should be the task of its people.

           The second section deals with the physical setting of the region and its determining influence upon man’s existence, and the development of his culture through culture contract.  The major elements of physical geography are: aridity and water scarcity, the morphological aspects of the Gulf basin (shore line, natural resources, the great pearl bank and the rich fisheries) and the spatial relations of the Gulf as a navigational alley of trade between the Worlds of the Indian Ocean and those of the Middle East.

           The physical factors are well reflected by the dominance of literal habitation in an almost continuous settled zone as opposed to the nomadic character of the hinterland.  There was always a criss-cross movement of the people between the two shores of the Gulf, giving the region its basic Arabic stamp, which was strengthened by a continuous settlement of nomads among their kins of the coastal region.

           The third part deals with the population of the area.  An attempt is given to reconstruct the major characteristics of the demography of the population at the beginning of this century.  The attempt is based on both European and Arab sources as well as interviews with old sea captains in Doha (Qatar).  The labour force is thoroughly investigated and it is concluded that the region has always suffered from a lack of manpower estimated at 20% of the needed work force to manipulate its resources, especially during the pearl 4 season.  Beduins seeking incomes in the dry season and people from the Persian coast used to cover-up the shortage of manpower.  Some expatriates used to live in urban areas on a semi-permanent basis, most of them were Indian enjoyed British protection and were engaged in pearl trade.

           The fourth part includes topics on the economy of the Gulf.  Traditional technology poses many questions, e.g., boat building, fishing gears and house construction.  Economic activities are classified and measured according to:

a)     on or off-shore activities,

b)    seasonal or all-year round activities,

c)     fixed or shifting focus of activity.

A calendar of economic activities is attempted to get an insight on the problem of distributing the working people on different jobs by seasons.

           Piracy and slavery are cited to retell an old story of the usual British pretext to destroy the Arab fleet and annex the region.  The geopolitics of trade in the Gulf shows many instances of European rivalry with Britain.  The case of the German enterprise Woenckhaus exemplifies such rivalry in which Britain induced several Sheikhs to refuse Woenckhaus overtures.

           The concluding topic is a crude analysis of the balance of imports and exports in the Gulf during the first decade or so of this century.  The analysis concludes that almost 100% of the trading ships (steamers) in the ports of Kuwait and Bahrain at that time were British.  It also shows the influence of location factors in orienting Kuwaiti trade towards Iraq, S.W. Iran, and northern Najd, while Bahraini transit trade moved to central and southern Najd.

 

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